By BOB LITTELL
A year ago, I was fortunate to meet Steve Bistritz, who lives in the Atlanta area like I do. Steve and his co-author Nicholas Read had written a great book called “Selling to the C-Suite – What Every Executive Wants to Know about Selling to the Top” (McGraw-Hill – 2010). The book, already in its third printing, is about how salespeople not only can get meetings with C-Level executives at major companies and with business owners of mid-sized businesses, but how they can be invited to stay there and become a permanent advisor and confidante within a company’s inner circle.
Steve happened to attend a couple of my monthly “Don’t Need to Read the Book” (DNTRTB) book club meetings – where I call the author of a great business book and, with his or her permission, write my own 15- to 30-page summary of the book. Everyone who RSVPs that they will definitely come to the meeting gets an advance copy of my summary. At the meeting, after the 30 to 40 people who attend give a short introduction of who they are and what they do, we break into groups of five or six and discuss some key points from the summary, which I also lay out ahead of time so people have time to think about them.
When Steve gave me a copy of his book, I was fascinated and offered to make it one of the books I would summarize. When we held our DNTRTB book club meeting to discuss Steve’s book, we had one of our largest turnouts ever since the topic is of great interest to every sales professional trying to move up in selling to higher-level executives and business owners.
But what also happened was that as Steve learned more about the NetWeaving concept, which I had created over a decade ago, he realized that what he and Read, his co-author, suggest as successful strategies within companies is exactly how NetWeaving strategies have proven to work successfully externally.
As anyone knows who is already working in this upscale market, selling to top corporate executives, as well as to successful business owners of larger family and privately owned companies, requires a totally different approach than the usual one seen in lower-level B2C sales – to individual consumers. This is primarily due to the unique way that these high-level executives and entrepreneurs think and operate, as well as the way they have often arrived at their current status, which requires a different method of entry. They also often have gatekeepers or layers of direct reports between them and the sales professional, which makes a direct approach difficult or sometimes impossible.
Also of great importance is the degree to which very top execs have delegated decision-making authority to other C-Level execs within the company or organization. In some situations, this might not even be a C-Level executive, but a highly respected person within the company at a lower level. You may think you’re talking with the key decision-maker because you’re playing golf with the CEO only to find out you’ve violated the territory of the chief operating officer who feels you went around him or her, and without realizing it, you’ve lost.
As Neil Rackham points out in “Spin Selling”:
“Salespeople who still cling to this traditional role (I call them ‘walking brochures’ – take your pick) are failing everywhere. In their place, the new salespeople are highly skilled value creators, who live by ingeniously solving customer problems. The measure of these new salespeople is the value they create and, to create maximum value, they must understand the issues and concerns of the C-suite customers."
According to Steve and Nicholas, the real key to selling to C-level executives and successful business owners is to become a valued-added resource to the “relevant executive” or executives within the company. The relevant executive is the one who has the most to lose if things don’t go well on a particular project you’ve identified, or the most to gain if a home-run gets hit.
Steve’s background, as a very successful IBM sales exec, taught him that if they could create and nurture a trusted ongoing relationship between the IBM account manager and the relevant executive within the company, that relationship became permanent and almost bulletproof from competitors.
As I learned more about selling to the C-Suite and Steve learned more about NetWeaving, we both began to recognize how NetWeaving strategies and action steps have turned out to be some of the most powerful tools for providing “value added” services to these C-level execs and business owners.
Next Tuesday, April 12: Part II – How to Get Invited Into the C-Suite
Bob Littel is Chief NetWeaver. The site is www.netweaving.com.